ISSN 2451-2966


Paweł ŁysakPaweł SztarbowskiAgata Adamiecka-SitekMarta Keil

Polish Theatre after Klątwa: Paweł Łysak and Paweł Sztarbowski, directors of the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw, in Conversation with Agata Adamiecka-Sitek and Marta Keil

Photoreportage of two manifestations against THE CURSE directed by Oliver Frljic and in its defence (27-28.05.2017). Photographer: Jakub Szafrański/Krytyka Polityczna.

Photoreportage of two manifestations against THE CURSE directed by Oliver Frljic and in its defence (27-28.05.2017). Photographer: Jakub Szafrański/Krytyka Polityczna.

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The conversation was conducted by Agata Adamiecka-Sitek and Marta Keil with the management of the Zygmunt Hübner Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw several weeks after the premiere of Klątwa [The Curse] directed by Oliver Frljić. Its basic premise was to try to map the situation of the company faced with the extremely tense situation surrounding the production, violent protests from the right-wing media and the ‘siege’ of theatre by right-wing hit squads. It was particularly important for us to take a look at the institutional consequences faced by the management, both in terms of day-to-day running of the company, employee relations, relations with the audience, as well as the overhaul of the institution’s existing program strategy.

Polish Theatre after<em> Klątwa: </em>Paweł Łysak and Paweł Sztarbowski, directors of the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw, in Conversation with Agata Adamiecka-Sitek and Marta Keil

Agata Adamiecka-Sitek: When you invited [director] Oliver Frljić to collaborate, did you consider the possibility that this production would change your institution irrevocably? That the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw after Klątwa [The Curse, premiered on 18 February 2017] would be an entirely different place?

Paweł Łysak: Crisis situations can be devastating, but I have a feeling that more often they consolidate a theatre company and its ensemble. Extreme experiences make people aware of who they are and where they are – as well as if and how they can be together, for what cause they work together. When a difficult, risky process [such as The Curse] leads on top of everything else to a good production being created – one that has a real social impact, which of course can never be guaranteed – it can be particularly constructive and ground-breaking.

An extremely important moment in building the foundation of an institution such as a theatre company – a complex, varied structure with an team with varying views and sometimes with conflicting interests – is setting a goal that everyone would strive towards. A powerful one requiring the decision to truly commit to it: a goal that must be fought for and is worth fighting for. Paweł Sztarbowski and I had the feeling that, since we’d taken over the Powszechny Theatre in 2014, we’d not set such a radical goal in front of ourselves and the company. We knew that critical, socially engaged theatre that’s indispensable in Poland today requires more powerful means, more radical actions, productions striking ever stronger at taboos, violating the consensus, antagonizing. But we also had the feeling that we’d needed time for that. We wanted to avoid problems we’d observed at the Stary Theatre in Kraków when it was taken over by Jan Klata. There, all fronts had been opened very fast; things began with a sharp confrontation with their audience, with the company, with the media. Declarations of a revolution were uttered, as well as provocative announcements of radical change. Klata succeeded in the end succeeded. We, however, opted for an evolutionary process.

Our strategy was different. We wanted to unite the ensemble with newer actors – which was ultimately successful only to a small degree, and the old ensemble was largely changed, but this still happened along the lines of an evolutionary process. We took steps to integrate the company with the district [in Warsaw], we launched community projects such as Ogród Powszechny [Powszechny Garden], which developed the space around the building and transformed it into common space in which various activities are possible, providing people with various forms of being together, exercising this community feeling. There were people who treated this ‘garden community’ of ours dismissively and with a degree of mockery but it was important for us – also as a part of a conscious strategy to build the foundation for stronger actions.

Of course, atmosphere around the company was important to us, but what was essential was to build trust within the institution. If there’s no trust, it makes no sense to take up any risky situation because the institution could be torn apart by centrifugal force. Suppressed conflicts immediately find a way in such a situation to translate into the crisis then escalate violently. It took a long time for us to find ways of working together.

Paweł Sztarbowski: For a time, some actors would quit each successive production being rehearsed by the company: they’d give up the parts. They didn’t like them, for worldview or aesthetic reasons, or the parts didn’t satisfy their ambition. Many [of the actors] simply didn’t want to work with us. The situation reached the point where we announced we could no longer respect the rule, unwritten yet universally observed, that an actor can give up a part once a season. These were also easons for some departures and for people leaving the company. We’d hoped to combine the old ensemble and new actors, but we have to admit it didn’t work out. Few people are left from the old ensemble at the moment. But let’s say one thing right away: no one left from the cast working on The Curse, though the possibility of quitting at any stage of the work is a rule in Frljić’s theatre and it would’ve been accepted with full understanding.

: It’s a question of attitudes of those particular actors, but I’m convinced it’s also about the consolidation process we’re discussing. It’s worked similarly in terms of the company’s technical and administrative staff, and all of its employees. The Curse premiered with no obstacles, though surely many company members must’ve been appalled, even deeply outraged at some scenes [in the production]. We respect the views of people working in the company, and these vary greatly – there’s no shortage of employees with right-wing, strongly conservative beliefs, which we’ve always discussed openly, and with even greater intensity after The Curse premiered.

PSz: We were clear about who we were inviting to collaborate. It’d be hard not to be clear about it in Poland, anyway, after previous scandals and conflicts associated with Oliver’s work. But we also had the feeling that the company was ready for such a step.

A year ago, we’d shown Przeklęty niech będzie zdrajca ojczyzny [Damned Be the Traitor of His Homeland!, premirered in 2010 by the Mladinsko Theatre in Ljubljana, Slovenia] – a renowned, controversial and political production by Oliver, but also strongly directed towards inter-company mechanisms. We invited the entire ensemble at the time; we wrote to all the actors that it was important to us that they saw that production, because it’d been directed by someone who’d work with our company in the future.

We also spoke to the actors while casting The Curse, encouraging them to take part but also making sure they knew what kind of work they were signing up for. In the end, the cast identified very strongly with the work. When we had a moment of perplexity wondering whether or not to let the premiere happen – since we guessed it would cause a storm, that it’d be extremely difficult with consequences that could be dangerous for the company – the cast took a strong stance to go all the way through to the end. I don’t know if it was shared by all of them, but certainly part of the cast had deep faith that it was worth the risk. Also at the personal level.

Marta Keil: Were you prepared for the fact that the space of meeting and dialogue you were building would change into a minefield after this production? That there’d be no return to soft strategies?

: Yes, to some extent, though I can’t pretend we foresaw everything and were ready for everything. I less afraid of the company losing the place it’d earned in the public sphere – on this, we’d assumed, as I’ve said, evolution and a certain radicalization. I was more concerned with whether that foundation of trust and the willingness to work together could withstand it: whether the company wouldn’t crack from the inside in spite of all the energy put into its consolidation.

But I was also aware that Oliver’s strategy to antagonize is not provocation for provocation’s sake, that it serves rather to move public debate that’s spinning around in one place onto another level. The tension created on stage, the attack on spheres that by virtue of some unwritten social contract are inviolable, respected even by those who consciously maintain a deeply critical attitude towards the Catholic Church in our country – all of that is to be a force that’d pave the way to transition, break the bell jar of limitations imposed on us, in this case limitations on criticism of the omnipotent institution of the church, which determines our politics and usurps the right to determine the scope of freedom for all, not only for believers.

We were convinced after the eight years of PO [Civic Platform party] government and its consequential but not so ostentatious alliance with the church and constant concessions to it, that in the face of the conservative PiS [Law and Justice party] revolution, discussion of the church’s position in Polish society – on its power, extreme moral and financial abuse and escalating claims for appropriation in subsequent spheres – must be pushed onto different tracks. That such shock therapy was necessary for us as a society.

Photoreportage of two manifestations against THE CURSE directed by Oliver Frljic and in its defence (27-28.05.2017). Photographer: Jakub Szafrański/Krytyka Polityczna.

MK: Do you still have the feeling that was the case? After very difficult months since the premiere in which you’ve faced a wave of hatred and aggression, you’ve withstood criticism from the minister of culture [who is also deputy prime minister in the current government] and numerous politicians, with repeated assaults then a few days under siege by right-wing extremists outside the theatre, do you have the feeling now that the production caused some breakthrough in limitations on public debate in Poland?

PŁ: I’ve been repeating since the Congress of Culture, the grassroots event organized in October 2016 by creative circles, that we’re living in times when a very strong conservative project is being presented with values that people living in this country gave their life for: family, God, homeland, etc. On that side, there’s a clear, well-defined system, whereas on the other side there is no such system. There, the proposition is dispersed into a vast archipelago of ideas and circles. Another problem is that those ideas – let’s call them left-wing-democratic and emancipatory – are disseminated mostly by elites severely detached from the rest of society. On the opposite side, everyone has agreed on certain matters; meanwhile, on ours, we have a lot of struggles between groups with varying interests. This is one reason Frljić’s production became a resource for us to use.

PSz: Edwin Bendyk very aptly called The Curse a shot from the Aurora. The question is what will we all do about it.

: It’s all very well with the shot from the Aurora, but where are the revolutionaries here? They’ll have their coffee, they’ll have a conversation, they’ll praise our show and that’s it. I wondered, for example, to what extent this production could be such a shot from the Aurora for the opposition.

AA-S: But in order for that to happen, we’d have to have a real non-Catholic opposition in this country. And it only has a few percentage points of support at the moment. Frljić’s production deliberately oversteps the orderliness of rational debate. It’s very difficult to use this production to constructively build any social movement. It’s rather a tale of paralysing, destructive experience in a Polish society subjected to symbolic violence by the all-powerful institution of the Catholic Church. This production is about a society of abused children, while paedophilia isn’t only a real social problem in the form of sexual offences perpetrated by the clergy here, but above all a common cultural mechanism. Before we get to any state of independence and gain critical tools enabling us to defend our subjectivity, at the level of Catholic education we’re already very deeply immersed in learning about our sinful carnality. We’re all abused children! We’re all infantilized and subdued brutally by that institution’s obsessive interest in sexuality. The Curse presents this situation, understandably triggering extreme reactions.

: But at the same time, at the core of such a production lie certain values: need of a secular state, freedom of artistic expression, and finally what’s called the pedagogy of shame, which is some mechanism for self-purification or self-accusation. Those elements can also be a basis for some new value system.

MK: Yes, but here we’re probably at an earlier stage – at a stage where we must make a gesture towards breaking away, freeing ourselves, a rebellion in order for what you’re talking about to become possible. We have to free public space from oppression to develop it constructively. It seems to me that this work is still far ahead of us. It’s not enough to saw down a cross – what remains, after all, is the next overwhelming ideology of a nationalist state, symbolized in the production by the giant crowned eagle [Poland’s national emblem] before which the actors kneel. This is the closing image of the production. That’s why it’s such a horribly depressing production. It also shows we have no constructive proposition at hand, we still don’t know how to formulate it, but at the same time opens a discussion on the subject even if it does so with the help of dynamite.

PSz: Yes, we knew what dynamite planted under the public sphere means, recalling the Golgota Picnic experience [local reactions to the cancellation of Rodrigo Garcia’s production at the 2014 Malta Festival in Poznań], which came at the very end of our term as managing directors of the Polski Theatre in Bydgoszcz.1

: Before what happened in Bydgoszcz as part of the social action ‘Golgota Picnic: Do It Yourself’, an idea arose to transfer the entire production by Rodrigo Garcia to the stage of the Polski Theatre in Bydgoszcz and show it there to the festival’s audience. I accepted that proposal by the [Malta] festival’s director, Michał Merczyński, and information to that effect appeared for a moment on the festival website. Immediately, protests were launched and we were flooded by messages of indignation and hate. The company found itself in a siege situation. It turned out, however, that in the end the director didn’t accept such a solution and refused to transfer the performance to our stage – the stage of a provincial company. Nevertheless, the first blows at the time were levelled at our company.

As far as experiences are concerned that somehow contributed to our awareness and strategy around The Curse’s premiere, for me an important point of reference is what I experienced after the premiere of Shopping and Fucking [premiere on 12 November 2012, Studyjny PWSFTviT Theatre, in Łódź]. The piece was about a taboo relating to social mores, but at the time the transgression associated with that production was somehow shocking. For me personally at that stage, it was as difficult as the situation we find ourselves in now. Audience reactions were violent, people would interrupt performances, walking down in front of the stage shouting – one audience member pushed the actor Rafał Mohr against the wall and smashed his nose, another spat on the actress Maria Seweryn. The management of TR Warszawa also had problems on this account, though it was for them a guest performance. It was traumatic. Yet another difficult situation of very sharp criticism and attacks was associated with the premiere of Oczyszczeni [Cleansed, 9 January 2002] in Poznań.

AA-S: I understand that all those situations have earned you your present attitude. I’d like you to tell us – step by step – how you prepared for what you knew would happen. How does one achieve such consistency in a company and such support, or in any case the loyalty of all employees?

: I have to be frank, though perhaps it won’t sound particularly modest: the basic fact is that for the past two and a half years, people saw who we are, what kind of people we are. And they trusted us.

PSz: It was also very important that the company had already staged several daring, powerful productions, which on the part of the company had entailed a shift in boundaries or crossing certain barriers, mainly relating to mores: Szczury [The Rats, 10 January 2015] and Wściekłość [The Rage, 24 September 2016] directed by Maja Kleczewska, and Księgi Jakubowe [The Books of Jacob, 13 May 2016, directed by Ewelina Marciniak. These productions caused inside controversies, they were talked about within the company; it was all somehow worked through together.

If we’d started with a production like The Curse, the show certainly wouldn’t have opened or the company would’ve fallen apart right after the premiere and we wouldn’t have been able to keep the production in the repertoire and to keep performing it despite huge, ever-increasing pressure exerted by radical right-wing circles, which are openly supported by the state authorities, after all. At the same time, we also have to admit that it’s been possible thanks to the excellent attitude of local authorities. The Warsaw City Hall, which organizes our company, stood firmly and consistently on the side of autonomy of art and freedom of expression.

Photoreportage of two manifestations against THE CURSE directed by Oliver Frljic and in its defence (27-28.05.2017). Photographer: Jakub Szafrański/Krytyka Polityczna.

: Yes, that’s been the decisive factor. I’ll come back to it, but first I’d like to speak about something fundamental for me, related to the company and the ensemble. All my life, I’ve observed within theatre companies something I’d call – I don’t know – a philosopher’s stone: it’s simple faith in theatre, a conviction that society needs it. If an ensemble has that ethos, if people see that it’s not just about some particular interests, careers, profits – though it’s also always somehow about those, of course, let’s not idealize – but if there’s a common cause and it’s most important, people will follow. They can be lead this way. This is my fundamental experience. Such faith in theatre is usually displayed by actors. But that faith can also be instilled in the entire company. It requires honesty, devotion, openness and giving up on power plays. Of course, a repertory-theatre company has a hierarchy and quite inflexible relations of power, but that doesn’t necessarily mean violence, manipulation or cynicism.

PSz: An example: after accusations began and prosecutorial proceedings were launched after Frljić’s production Nasza przemoc, wasza przemoc [Our Violence and Your Violence, Mladinsko Theatre, Ljubljana, 19 November 2016] was performed in Bydgoszcz, tech-crew members came to me in the canteen and asked if we weren’t afraid, because this was the director who was going to work with us very soon. I answered that yes, we were afraid. That he uses controversial language and raises subjects that are the hardest for society, and that after our premiere we might find ourselves in a crisis. But we must be well prepared for it and ready for various scenarios.

That was the first of many conversations over the course of this work. We’ve always been clear about the matter and have never avoided discussion – either about theatre or about social and political problems referred to by shows we’ve produced here. One must add that The Curse brought about a major increase in that arena. Generally, I have the feeling that the production drew us closer together, opening up space for intense communication and commitment but also for caring about each other.

: After a series of such meetings and informal conversations that arose spontaneously, we called a meeting for the entire company: all the people employed in the company, including of course the creative team working on The Curse. It was a week before opening night. I spoke about the production, about its political dimension and how in our opinion the critical edge here is directed against the Catholic Church as institution and not at religion as such, and that provocation is in this case a conscious means to an end and, according to the creative team, a necessary one.

I also said that it was clear that not everyone among us shares such views, as not everyone agrees about our general repertoire and political line. It wasn’t the first time I’d spoken about this, anyway, I try to repeat that on every occasions when we talk about politics and ideological stances. In a place such as a public theatre company, in an obvious way, there must be a diversity of worldviews among the employees, and it’s best when they can talk about it openly. This time, we announced that if anyone for whatever reason didn’t want to work on this production, regardless of what their work entailed, they didn’t have to do it. It’d be enough for them let us know they wanted to be excluded and they would be, with no consequences.

AA-S: This is a completely unique situation in a repertory theatre company.

: Yes, we had a sense for the uniqueness of this production, and that solution seemed necessary here.

AA-S: I’ve the impression that this move openly undermines the work ethos of repertory theatre companies, based on everyone being available at all times and in the right place, resulting from a clear division of roles and professional specialization and by which one is always ready to offer their professional skills and perform a given task. I’m here to do my job, regardless of circumstances – that’s how I’d describe that desirable attitude. It can be also described in terms of craftsmanship. Such craftsmanship, that professional skill and willingness to be the necessary instrument in the hands of a demiurge-director, or at least an appropriate cog in the professionally functioning theatre machinery, is the basis of company work, constantly fetishized in repertory theatre discourse.

: It seems to me that this kind of ethos can be replaced by the commitment to a cause that I was trying to describe. It has a much more subjective character, it requires the acceptance of the social role of theatre but doesn’t necessarily identify with the particular political or ideological message of every production performed in a company. But on no account – let me repeat that – does it mean doing away with hierarchy, also in terms of the specific responsibility for decisions, the obligation to ensure employees’ personal safety as well as stability and the continuity of their work. That’s always the task of a managing director.

I’ll insist, however, that there remains a lot of space for subjectivity here – space that in Polish theatre companies is often left undeveloped. It must be repeated immediately that during work on The Curse, no one quit. One person from the front-of-house department let us know that they didn’t want to work in the auditorium, didn’t want to watch the performances, but was happy to work in another position – and that’s what happened.

PSz: At the company meeting a week before the opening, we also analysed all consequences we could potentially face – from legal through administrative to social and economic ones. We talked about crisis scenarios in the event of a performance interruption, a person forcibly mounting the stage, a situation of immediate danger. We agreed that the management would be present at each performance, along with the staff members from each department. We agreed that we’d all be particularly vigilant. We decided to report any potential threat to the police, as well as to hire security.

We had the sense that ensuring safety of the cast and of the audience was paramount. We also agreed that if a situation became too difficult for the cast, if attempts to interrupt a performance made it impossible for them to continue, we’d all get on stage and try to dialogue with the protesters. This is a strategy from the Bread and Puppet Theatre: not to suppress protest, not to ignore it, not to intervene, not to just escort protesters from the auditorium, but to strive to forge dialogue.

During that company meeting, people opened up a great deal – they spoke about their anxieties precisely and matter-of-factly, fears that our funding would be cut, that the company would be audited. There were open comments about the production, sometimes very critical, for instance that the scene utilizing the pope’s figure was too drastic, that this shouldn’t happen in a theatre, that it was too crude, too painful. We spoke about it. It was a very empowering situation, though it didn’t violate basic rules of theatre companies: it was clear that the decision was in our hands. But everyone heard our arguments, they could express their opinions, ask about everything, decide whether they wanted to participate.

AA-S:In conversations that I conducted with theatre staff other than the acting ensemble, another stance appeared as well. It concerned people working on the production for many weeks before opening night without any knowledge about the direction it would take and how far it would go. Meanwhile, the production turned out to be shockingly radical for them. They’d been working on something that broke cultural taboo but also directly entered the sphere of blasphemy and grave sin, about which they were in any case eagerly instructed in churches once the scandal following the premiere had broken out.

Photoreportage of two manifestations against THE CURSE directed by Oliver Frljić and in its defence (27-28.05. 2017). Photographer: Jakub Szafrański/Krytyka Polityczna.

Within the institutional framework, as part of their duties, they’d done something that stood in contradiction to their sense of morality, and their position was entirely non-subjective. They’d contributed to the creation of such a production, therefore they’d participated in blasphemy and sin – that’s the feeling they were left with. Though the director and his team wrote into the production a critical discourse on structural violence present in a theatre company institution, this area remained completely undisclosed.

: You’re now showing a situation in which employees of the institution weren’t informed about the direction the production had been taking for a long time. We also couldn’t quite have full knowledge – I think management shouldn’t interfere in the creative process.

MK: The question arises here whether empowerment of all employees is possible within the framework of an institutional theatre structure – because in my opinion it is not. If Oliver had worked on The Curse in some sort of collective, the situation would’ve been different: everyone from the very beginning would’ve consciously participated in the process.

: What’s to be done about that? There is no way. There’s an official structure and that’s that. I understand that a situation in which we call a meeting, during which the clear message is given that if anyone has a problem with the production they don’t have to work on it, is an opening one. The employee gets the clear message that they can refuse to work without fearing any repercussions on my part. In the case of this production, they’d simply be replaced by someone else. By contrast, there’s no way of solving the problem someone might have with being employed in an institution that decides to produce such shows. One can only say: Thank you, I refuse to work, I quit.

PSz: I have the feeling that what Oliver was interested in at the outset of the work was the structure of a theatre institution. But this time, he took up a game in which in reality there was no opponent. He assumed the actors would say no, that we’d say no, then everywhere he met acceptance. One side assumed a certain strategy; the other one disarmed it a little.

But because of the fact that the show opened and the premiere met such a strong social response, the subject of the institution turned out to be marginal. What was fundamental was the criticism of the Catholic Church as an institution of a particularly violent nature.

Photoreportage of two manifestations against THE CURSE directed by Oliver Frljić and in its defence (27-28.05.2017). Photographer: Jakub Szafrański/Krytyka Polityczna.

: I’ve no doubt that, in this situation, we as the management of a theatre company were also instrumentalized to a degree. But we accepted it consciously, too. From the beginning, we knew we were inviting a director whose work strategy was based on very intelligent, profound manipulation.

In any case, to follow this track, the managing director of a theatre company is always more or less instrumentalized. His role is to give space to artists, and the more space he can give, the better he performs his function. He is in a certain way ‘at the service of’. But on the other hand, you’re right, of course: running a theatre is also a project of sorts. I always refer in this case to Joseph Beuys and his concept of social sculpture. We don’t make theatre only in order to make theatre, but in order to somehow influence reality.

And now the question is how much The Curse enhances such a course of action projected by us, and how much it cuts the debate short. We are a theatre company of dialogue and discussion, and in the case of that production the question arises: to what extent we radicalize this debate, to what extent we upended the table and announced that the dialogue will start from an entirely different position. And that, of course, is a problem.

AA-S: Let’s go back to the question of relations with the organizer, which in the situation of taking radical action is always a sensitive issue. You’ve already emphasised that the Warsaw city authorities behaved ideally through the entire situation. Had you worked towards that in any particular way?

: We knew, of course, that the political situation was favourable to us. That the Warsaw authorities, by taking a stand opposing us, would find themselves on the same side of the barricades as [the ruling party] PiS, who of course immediately raised the alarm on the subject of fouled sacred figures and insulting the nation. But the only strategic move on our side had been to inform the appropriate officials about the fact that our company was preparing a production that would certainly cause strong social reactions. We didn’t want to surprise the organizer; it was best to show our hand from the very start and let everyone to prepare to take a stand.

PSz: Since the production right-wing media has constantly repeated arguments that such art isn’t entitled to public funding. These are open calls for economic censorship, and people uttering them aren’t even aware that they’re supporting a complete erasure of the freedom of artistic expression expressed in the Constitution of the Republic of Poland. Unfortunately, Minister of Culture Piotr Gliński joined those voices and performed an act of such censorship himself by reneging on a previously signed agreement, depriving the Malta Festival from funding because one of its curators is Oliver Frljić.

: Warsaw’s mayor, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, made it clear, however, that the city has no tools enabling censorship and doesn’t wish to have them, because theatre is an autonomous institution and if there are any objections to a production, the only legal option is to go to court, along the lines of the rule that artistic freedom ends where the penal code begins.

Meanwhile, in right-wing circles, an altogether different attitude predominates, the result, it seems to me, of a departure from civic democracy towards something that was once called ‘reigning in’ – therefore the assumption that there should exist some overseer who’ll put everything in order at one stroke. So there’s the expectation on the other side that someone important will decide what’s acceptable and what’s not. This desire for a leader, a censor, is a very dangerous one.

MK: And what was your legal strategy, because you must have thought it out carefully, as can be judged by the message on the company’s website, at the box office, then repeated while booking: ‘This show is for adults only. It contains scenes relating to sexual behaviour and violence, as well as religious subjects, which despite their satirical character can be considered controversial. All scenes presented in the show are a reflection of an artistic vision only’.

: Performances in any theatre company can’t violate the law. When it comes to allegations concerning blasphemy, in our understanding, the production is not blasphemous as it does not refer to religion or discuss faith but strikes at the church as an institution. The cross, cut down on stage with a chainsaw saw, is in this case a symbol of power – such a symbol never has a single point of reference in culture, and the context within which it is placed in the production refers to the dimension of political activity of the Catholic Church in Poland. In addition, one can’t be offended by blasphemy by default, on the basis of a report. One has to see a show, therefore buy a ticket and become aware that it’s a controversial show. If I’m sensitive about that matter, I won’t expose myself to the risk of being offended; then if I consciously do, I’m not entitled to blame the theatre company. Such an interpretation seems logical to us.

PSz: The prosecutor’s office launched an ex-officio investigation procedure in relation to the possibility of blasphemy – which is not a crime prosecuted ex officio – and in connection with incitement to murder. The latter doesn’t occur in the production, because the artists had carried out a legal analysis of possible effects of such an action and withdrew from that idea, as they tell the audience. This is an extremely interesting conceptual situation, of studying the nature of the very medium of theatre and the status of actions taken on stage.

It is not known whether there will be a trial. If so, the judiciary representatives involved will have to delve very deeply into theory and the matter of art – legal precedent will not be enough. However, this is not our matter. Our job is to continue performing the production, keep it in the repertoire and resisting any pressure to block the work of a public arts institution. And we’ll keep doing it. We continue to work intensely – we are learning how to make theatre after The Curse in Poland.

Translated by Karolina Sofulak

1. See more aobout Gologota Picnic at the Malta Festival in Polish Theatre Jurnal, (2) 2016: Agata Adamiecka-Sitek, Iwona Kurz, ‘Democracy: Do It Yourself’, and Antoni Michnik, ‘Golgota Picnic and the Framework of Public Discourse: Performing Democracy and Managing Social Indignation’,

Paweł Łysak

theatre and radio director. He graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy and Sociology at the University of Warsaw and the Directing Department at the Aleksander Zelwerowicz National Academy of Dramatic Art in Warsaw. In 1998, he co-founded with Paweł Wodziński the ‘theatre association’ and from 2000 to 2003 they co-led the Polski Theatre in Poznań. From 2006 to 2014, he was a director of the Polski Theatre in Bydgoszcz and seven editions of the Festival of New Dramaturgies (2007–2014). Since September 2014, the director of the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw. In 2010, he was a curator of the Bydgoszcz Project, when Bydgoszcz was the Candidate City of the European Capital of Culture 2016. From 2011 to 2014, coordinator of the Civic Culture Council in Bydgoszcz. From 2012 to 2016, president of Art Institutions Council to the Minister of Culture and National Heritage.

Laureate of prestigious awards and honours including the Golden Cross of Merit for his ‘contribution to Polish culture’ (2015), the Annual Award of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage (category: theatre) (2012), the Passport prize of the magazine Polityka in theatre ‘for consistent creation of an ambitious repertory, for combining the premières with discussions and actions stimulating spectators, theatre and the city’ (2008).

Paweł Sztarbowski

doctor of humanities. He graduated from the philosophy programme at the University of Warsaw, attended Theatre Studies at the National Academy of Dramatic Art in Warsaw. He completed his doctoral dissertation, ‘Teatr i Solidarność.O teatrze wspólnoty’ [‘Theatre and Solidarity: On the Theatre of Community’] supervized by Prof. Krystyna Duniec, in the Institute of Art of the Polish  Academy of Sciences. From 2006 to 2011, he worked in the Theatre Institute in Warsaw as the head of the department of theatre promotion, and from 2011 to 2014 in the Polski Theatre in Bydgoszcz as the deputy director and programme director of the Festival of New Dramaturgies. Since September 2014, he has been working in the Powszechny Theatre in Warsaw as the deputy director responsible for programming.

He was a creator of Nowa Siła Krytyczna [the New Critical Force], a group of young critics writing for the Polski Wortal Teatralny at He has collaborated as critic and writer with Tygodnik Powszechny, Notatnik Teatralny, Teatr, Didaskalia, Opcje, Metro, Newsweek Polska, as well as international theatre journals including Theater der Zeit, Svet e Divadlo and Theatre Seasons. He has been a regular columnist for the website and author of many academic papers on theatre, presented at Polish and international conferences and published in essay collections. He edited the collections Liberated Energy (Warsaw, 2011) and Teatr wspólny (Bydgoszcz, 2013).

Agata Adamiecka-Sitek

(1974), graduate in cultural studies from the University of Silesia. Author of the book Teatr i tekst. Inscenizacja w teatrze postmodernistycznym (“Theatre and Text. Staging in Postmodern Theatre”, 2006) as well as several dozen essays and articles published in the magazines Dialog, Didaskalia, Teatr, Notatnik Teatralny and collected volumes. Founder and editor of two publication series – Inna Scena and Nowe Historie – and editor of numerous books on theatre. Recently led the project and was on the editorial board of the first edition of Jerzy Grotowski’s Teksty zebrane (“Collected Texts”). Works at the Zbigniew Raszewski Theatre Institute, where she manages academic projects, including a programme of research on Polish theatre from a gender and queer perspective. Research on construction of gender and sexuality in Grotowski’s theatre was also the subject of the semester-long course which she designed in 2011 for the Jerzy Grotowski Institute. Worked with Marta Górnicka on the Chorus of Women project. Teaches at the National Academy of Dramatic Art, as well as gender studies at the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Marta Keil

(1983), performing-arts curator, based in Warsaw. Since 2012, she has curated together with Grzegorz Reske the fetival Theatre Confrontations – an international performing-arts festival in Lublin ( She created and curates the East European Performing Arts Platform ( Worked as curator and dramaturge with artists including Agnieszka Jakimiak, Rabih Mroué, Agata Siniarska and Ana Vujanović. In 2014 and 2015, she worked as curator at the Polski Theatre in Bydgoszcz ( and co-curated the Festival of New Dramaturgies ( One of the initiators and curators of the Identity.Move! project ( Editor of the book Dance, Process, Artistic Research. Contemporary Dance in the Political, Economic and Social Context of “Former East” of Europe, published in 2015. PhD student at the Polish Academy of Science’s Art Institute. She writes a blog